A delicious, juicy Smoked Turkey recipe cooked on any type of grill or smoker, including a Traeger or wood pellet grill, electric, charcoal, or gas grill.

You’ll love the amazing taste of this Smoked Turkey, infused with a citrus herb Turkey Brine. Be sure to use the drippings to make turkey gravy and serve it alongside these popular Thanksgiving recipes!

A whole smoked turkey served on a platter with fresh herbs under it.

The most important thing to know about this smoked turkey recipe is that you can use ANY TYPE OF GRILL to smoke a turkey. Just be sure there’s enough space for the bird to sit and the lid to close. You can use a gas grill, charcoal grill, or a wood-pellet grill.  In this post you’ll find all the tips and tricks you need to smoke a turkey.

Let’s get started!

What you’ll need:

  • A Grill: wood pellet, electric smoker, charcoal or gas grill (see below).
  • A roasting pan: If you don’t have a roasting pan and rack, no problem. Buy a disposable aluminum roasting pan from the grocery store. Aim for a large roasting pan that is 3-4 inches deep.
  • A whole turkey:  Plan to serve roughly 1.5 pounds of smoked turkey per person. (So if you’re feeding 6 people, buy at least a 10 lb. turkey).
  • Herb butter: butter, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper.
  • For the turkey: celery, carrots, onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper, olive oil, chicken stock.

Use ANY Grill to Smoke a Turkey:

Believe it or not, you can achieve a wood smoked flavor using any grill.  Some grills will be easier and more hands off than others but we’ve got all the tips you need to be successful with whatever grill you have.

  • Wood pellet grill: smoking on a Traeger or other wood pellet grill is like getting upgraded to first class.  These newer smokers are designed to maintain the smoke and temperature for you and all you have to do is adjust the dial to change the temperature.  As for wood pellets, any blend will work but for this recipe, we recommend the Traeger signature blend of Hickory, Maple, and Cherry.
  • Electric smokerTo smoke a turkey with an electric smoker, add your favorite wood pellets to the wood chip tray of your smoker before cooking.  Preheat your grill then place the turkey in an aluminum roasting pan in the center rack of the smoker.  Check for smoke every hour, and if you don’t see any smoke, add additional wood chips.
  • Charcoal grill:  Soak 2 cups of wood chips in water or non-alcoholic juice for 30 minutes. Heat the charcoal briquettes until they are ashed over, then prepare your charcoal grill for indirect cooking by arranging the coals with half on one side and half on the other side of the grill.  Cover the coals with a handful of wood chips (about 1-2 cups).   Place the roasting pan (with turkey inside, prepared as directed in recipe card) on the grill rack.  Open the top and bottom vent halfway during cooking and adjust as needed to reach the desired temperature of 300 degrees.  Plan to add new coals and damp wood chips as needed to maintain the consistent temperature of 300 degrees.
    • Note* If you have a large charcoal grill that can fit a roasting pan, follow the recipe directions.  If your charcoal grill can only fit the bird on the grill grates, place a pan filled with several cups of chicken broth underneath the grates (in the center of the coals) to catch the drippings, then cook the turkey directly above the pan on the grill grates. 
  • Gas grill: Soak 2 cups of wood chips in water or non-alcoholic juice for 30 minutes.  Add the wood chips to a disposable aluminum pan, remove the grill grate from one side of your grill and place the wood chip pan directly on the burners on that side.  Turn on all burners to high, close the lid and wait until for the chips to start smoking.  Next, create indirect heat by turning off the burners opposite the wood chips that will be below where you put the turkey.  Place the turkey, in its roasting pan, over the side without heat, turn the burners below the wood chips to medium low, aiming for a consistent temperature of 300 degrees.  Close the lid once the turkey is in place and avoid opening the grill as much as possible to keep a steady temperature.  Rotate the turkey every hour to ensure it cooks on all side.
    • Note* If your gas grill can fit a roasting pan on the grill grates, follow the recipe directions.  If your grill can only fit the bird on the grill grates, place a pan filled with several cups of chicken broth underneath the grates (in the center of the coals) to catch the drippings, then cook the turkey directly above the pan on the grill grates. 

Cooking Time and Temperature:

Our goal is to smoke the turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast. The time it takes to reach this point will vary depending on the size of the bird, the type of wood-fired grill you’re using, and the outside temperature.  See the graph below to calculate Smoked Turkey cooking time. We recommend a cooking temperature of 300 degrees F.

A graphic showing the time and temperature to smoke a turkey

Plan on at least 3 hours and up to 10 hours!

NOTE: Keep in mind that the lower the temperature, the longer it takes to cook the turkey, and thus the higher chance of having a dry turkey. This is why we recommend a temperature of 300 degrees F, and cooking smaller turkeys –15lbs or less.

How to smoke a turkey:

1. Choose a turkey:

  • For best results, choose a smaller turkey, less than 15 pounds. If feeding more than 12-14 people, consider cooking two turkeys. (Larger turkeys will take significantly longer to smoke, which can lead to health safety issues, and a dry turkey).

2. Prepare the Turkey:

  • If frozen, thaw the turkey.  As a rule of thumb, you will thaw one day in the refrigerator for ever 5 pounds of turkey. I always give myself an extra day or two, to be safe. Place the turkey on a large baking sheet as it thaws, to trap any liquid released while thawing. (You can also bring the turkey during the last day of thawing). 
  • Remove neck and giblets.  Remove turkey from packaging, take out the neck and giblets from the cavity of the bird and save them for homemade gravy. Remove the Hock Lock (the plastic or metal crimp securing the hind legs, or hock of turkey). This will make it easier to season the cavity of the bird.
  • Brine the turkey.  Although most store bought turkeys are already pre-brined, when you smoke a turkey, you cook it at lower heat for a long time. The longer you cook it, the more likely it is to dry out, so brining can help ensure the turkey is moist and not dry.  Try to buy turkey that hasn’t been brined.  We recommend this simple turkey brine.
  • Spread herb butter under turkey skin. Carefully use your hands to separate the skin of the turkey from the breast (just above the main cavity of the bird). Combine the herb butter ingredients and spread it between the skin and breast of the turkey. Take care not to tear or puncture the skin as you create a large pocket over each of the breasts.
  • Truss and season the bird:  Season the cavity well with salt and pepper and add sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme. Cut the garlic bulb in half horizontally and place both halves inside the cavity. Truss the bird with baking twine or reuse the Hock Lock that it came with (or don’t truss it at all and it will be fine!). Drizzle the entire outside of the bird with olive oil and spread evenly to coat. Season the entire bird well with salt and pepper. Tuck the wings underneath the bird.
  • Place in roasting pan. Roughly chop celery, carrots and onion into chunks and place in the bottom of your roasting pan. Add garlic cloves, rosemary, and thyme to the pan along with chicken stock and place the turkey right on top of the veggies.  They will act as a roasting rack.

Four process photos for preparing and seasoning a turkey to cook in a smoker or grill.

2. Smoke the turkey:

  • Prep the grill.  Prep your wood pellet (Traeger), charcoal, electric, or gas grill for smoking (see instructions above). Preheat grill to 300 degrees, then place the turkey (uncovered and in the roasting pan) on the grill.
  • Place thermometer in bird. 
    • Digital Bluetooth Thermometer: I use this inexpensive Bluetooth digital thermometer to insert the thermometer in the bird and check the temperature from my iPhone. Insert the thermometer so that the tip is situated in the thickest part of the breast and close the lid.
    • Handheld thermometer: If using a handheld digital thermometer, close the lid and check the temperature of the bird every 30 minutes starting at the 2 ½ hour mark.
  • Smoke to internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Use your thermometer to check the thickest part of the breast meat.  Cook with the grill lid closed and avoid opening the lid as much as possible. Set your timer for 2 or 2 ½ hours before checking on the turkey.  Then check every 30 minutes.

Side by side photos of a how turkey in a smoker before and after it has cooked.

3. Let it rest: 

Once the turkey reaches 160 degrees, remove it from the grill and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least 15 -20 minutes before carving. Resting while covered will allow the bird to continue to cook the extra 5 degrees to reach 165 degrees, and it allows juices in the bird to settle back into the meat.

Now you’re ready to Carve the Turkey, serve and enjoy!

A serving platter with carved turkey meat from a smoked turkey.

More tips for Smoking a Turkey:

Use an aluminum roasting pan. A metal roasting pan is not necessary for smoking a turkey. In fact, I prefer a disposable foil roasting pan that I can simply throw away after using. 

Don’t wash the turkey: There is no need to wash the turkey before smoking as any bacteria on the turkey will be killed during cooking. Simply remove the turkey from the packaging and use paper towels to dry it off.

Don’t baste the turkey: Basting requires you to open the lid of your grill, which causes the temperature to drop.  We want to avoid opening the grill as much as possible. Brining the turkey before cooking really negates the need to baste the turkey and still have a very moist bird.

Save the drippings. After the turkey is finished cooking there will be juice and browned cooked bits at the bottom of your roasting pan. You can reserve all of it for making turkey gravy. You can also use the leftover neck and giblets you pull from the turkey when you remove it from the packaging, to make giblet gravy.  The most flavorful gravy! Your grandma would be proud!

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Recipe

A whole smoked turkey served on a platter with fresh herbs under it.
Prep 20 mins
Cook 4 hrs
Resting Time 30 mins
Total 4 hrs 50 mins
Add to Meal Plan

Ingredients
 
 

For the Herb Butter:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons fresh chopped thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves

For the Roasting Pan (gravy drippings):

  • 3-4 celery stalks
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 quart chicken stock

For the Turkey:

  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • Olive oil

Instructions
 

Prepare the Turkey:

  • If frozen, thaw the turkey. As a rule of thumb, you will need one day in the refrigerator for ever 5 pounds of turkey. I always give myself an extra day or two, to be safe. Place the turkey on a large baking sheet as it thaws, to trap any liquid released while thawing.
  • Remove neck and giblets. Remove the fully-thawed turkey from its packaging and remove the neck (usually located within the main cavity) and giblets (usually contained in a small sack located within the smaller cavity towards the front of the bird). You can discard both of these or save them for turkey gravy.

Brine the turkey:

  • We recommend this simple turkey brine. (If using a frozen turkey, it can be added to the brine near the end of the thawing process).

Prepare herb butter:

  • Add 1 cup softened butter to a mixing bowl and add finely chopped rosemary, thyme and garlic. Add the salt and pepper and mix well. (The herb butter can be made several days in advance).

Spread Herb Butter under Turkey Skin:

  • Remove the turkey from the brine (discard brine) and pat turkey dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place on a large baking tray. Carefully use your hands to separate the skin of the turkey from the breast (just above the main cavity of the bird). Spread the herb butter between the skin and breast of the turkey. Take care not to tear or puncture the skin as you create a large pocket over each of the breasts.

Season and Truss:

  • Season the inside cavity of the bird well with salt and pepper and add sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Cut the garlic bulb in half horizontally and place both halves inside the cavity. Truss the bird with cotton baking twine or reuse the Hock Lock that it came with. Drizzle the entire outside of the bird with olive oil, spreading it over all surfaces with your hands. Season the entire bird well with salt and pepper. Tuck the wings underneath the bird.

Place in roasting pan:

  • Roughly chop celery, carrots and onion into chunks and place in the bottom of your roasting pan. Add garlic cloves, rosemary, and thyme to the pan along with chicken stock and place the turkey right on top of the veggies. They will act as a rack.

Smoke the turkey:

  • Prepare your wood pellet (Traeger), charcoal, electric, or gas grill for smoking (see instructions above). Preheat grill to 300 degrees, then place the turkey (uncovered and in the roasting pan) on the grill. (See graph above for general cook times based on grill type).
  • Smoke to internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Use your thermometer to check the thickest part of the breast meat. Cook with the grill lid closed and avoid opening the lid as much as possible.
  • Digital Bluetooth thermometer: If you have a digital bluetooth thermometer that connects to your grill, insert the thermometer so that the tip is situated in the thickest part of the breast and close the lid. Check the turkey temperature from your phone.
    Handheld thermometer: If you use a handheld digital thermometer, close the lid and check the temperature of the bird every 30 minutes starting at the 2 ½ hour mark.

Cover and Rest:

  • Once the turkey reaches 160 degrees, remove it from the grill and cover with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for at least 15 -20 minutes before carving. It will continue to cook as it rests, to reach 165 degrees.
  • This is the perfect time to strain the drippings from the bottom of the pan and make some delicious gravy! Don't miss my tutorial for How to Carve a Turkey!

Notes

Turkey: For best results, choose a smaller turkey, less than 15 pounds. If feeding more than 12-14 people, consider cooking two turkeys. (Larger turkeys will take significantly longer to smoke, which can lead to health safety issues, and a dry turkey.
There is no need to wash the turkey before smoking as any bacteria on the turkey will be killed during cooking. Simply remove the turkey from the packaging and use paper towels to dry it off.
Roasting Pan: A metal roasting pan is not necessary for smoking a turkey. In fact, I prefer the ease of a disposable roasting pan
How to Carve a Turkey video and photos.
Recipe from my Father-in-Law, Dave Allen.

Nutrition

Calories: 705kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 87gFat: 37gSaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 323mgSodium: 901mgPotassium: 1026mgFiber: 1gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 2297IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 72mgIron: 4mg

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About The Author

Lauren Allen

Welcome! I’m Lauren, a mom of four and lover of good food. Here you’ll find easy recipes and weeknight meal ideas made with real ingredients, with step-by-step photos and videos.

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  1. 5 stars
    WOW! I’m so glad you shared this. I’ve been thinking about using our new smoker to smoke our turkey this year but had no idea where to start. Thanks for the great resource!